Hillary stands up for her husband

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FOR MANY long weeks she kept her counsel about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky and about the swelling political tempest that was threatening to engulf him, writes David Usborne. Then, just as ignominious impeachment was upon the President - and too late to alter events - Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped out of the shadows.

In public, at least, the First Lady is once again standing by her man. She was at his side, holding his arm, in the White House Rose Garden yesterday afternoon as he vowed to fight on after the House vote. In the morning, just before the start of the impeachment debate, she went to Capitol Hill to tell Democratic members of Congress: "I love and care deeply about my husband." On Friday, she paused outside the White House to voice the "pride" she felt in the President.

Is the alliance of Bill and Hillary one of love, of shared political ambition, or both? Is it possible that Hillary, in her heart, can have forgiven Bill for the Monica transgression?

In February 1992, when then candidate Bill Clinton was rocked by the Gennifer Flowers revelations, Hillary sat snug beside him on network television. She remained with her husband, she said, out of love and respect. This January, she did it again. When the Monica allegations first surfaced and the President was denying them, she went on television to suggest he was the victim of a conservative plot.

Her silence since the summer, when all the lies came to light, prompted some to wonder if the ties of loyalty between the couple had been broken. It seems not. On Friday, Mrs Clinton declared: "The vast majority of Americans share my approval and pride in the job the president has been doing for our country."

Yesterday morning's meeting was private. A spokeswoman said Mrs Clinton was going to the Hill "to hear about the support Democrats have for her and her husband". If Hillary felt she needed to hear that message, who could blame her?